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COURT TRIAL TOMORROW: LOS ANGELES DA’s INCOMPATIBLE OFFICE CLAIM AGAINST CARSON MAYOR ALBERT ROBLES

Carson Mayor and WRD Director Albert Robles and District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

 

Wednesday January 24, 2018, 2:45 p.m 

Editor’s note: The trial date was moved to Feb. 15, 2018,  just minutes after HMG posted the story.

By Brian Hews

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s  incompatible office claim against current city of Carson Mayor and Water Replenishment District Director Albert Robles goes to trial tomorrow.

The “quo warranto” lawsuit seeks to remove Robles from his elected WRD post, which he has held since 1992.

In the Petition, the DA argues that the jurisdictions of the WRD and Carson overlap, therefore there is a “potential” for a significant clash of duties and loyalties between the two offices “at some point in the future.”

Robles was reelected as Carson Mayor on Nov. 8, 2016, garnering 17,660 votes; he was reelected to the WRD, tallying 65,134 votes. It was months later that the DA filed the incompatible office lawsuit after receiving “leave to sue.”

For his part, Robles is claiming Lacey has a personal vendetta against him.

“There are many others out there who hold multiple offices, yet they go unchallenged. Sadly, there is a long history of [Lacey] unsuccessfully targeting me. This action is just the latest episode in this personal vendetta at public expense, including the use of outside legal counsel by [Lacey].”

In the 18-page claim, the DA cited scenarios under which there is a potential for clash of duties between Robles’ council seat in Carson and his director position at WRD.

One scenario pointed to the fact that the WRD raises funds within its district using the replenishment assessment, also known as the RA.

The agency holds annual public rate setting hearings to determine the RA for the next year, at which pumpers, public officials, and residents in the district may be heard.

Citing a 2010 lawsuit filed by cities against the WRD, the DA claimed, “the [ability to assess the RA] raises a potential for a significant clash of duties and loyalties because Robles approves the annual RA as a director of the WRD which is passed on to Carson residents.”

The case, which was litigated three years prior to Robles’ election to Carson City Council, was brought about by Cerritos, Downey and Signal Hill who were protesting the RA assessments.

The DA pointed out that Robles “lobbied Carson as the president of WRD.” Robles was not on the Carson City Council at the time. That, according to the DA, “highlighted the potential for clash of duties.”

In his opposition, Robles rendered Lacey’s Prop 218 RA argument moot, using a recent California Supreme Court case that ruled that WRD is not subject to Prop 218.

Robles argued that the scenario presented by Lacey over replenishment assessments “was now discredited.”

“The court unanimously held that WRD, an agency that imposes a groundwater rate for the production of groundwater, is not subject to Prop 218 because it is not a property related fee.”

“There can be no significant clash of duties given this latest ruling, since Carson does not have groundwater pumping rights,” Robles claimed.

Another clash of duties scenario was the potential use of eminent domain exercised by Carson and the WRD.

Lacey’s future scenario had Carson and WRD taking over the two Carson water companies, Golden State and Cal Water.

Citing that it “was not speculative,” the DA used the attempted takeover of Golden State Water by the city of Claremont as an example, stating that Carson and WRD could engineer the same takeover.

Robles argued the merits of the eminent domain scenario used by Lacey where Carson and WRD takeover Cal Water and Golden State Water.

 

 

“Never mind such an undertaking would require hundreds of millions of dollars from Carson and would require a vote of the people to approve bonds.”

“But more importantly, the court ruled against Claremont’s use of eminent domain and Claremont did not appeal, thus completely negating [Lacey’s] potential scenario.”

Robles subsequently argued that Carson does not have a municipal water department, does not have ground water pumping rights and does not sell recycled water.

“Given that Carson will never have municipal water services, [Lacey] invented and contrived conflicts that lack legal authority and are not possible as a matter of law.”

Robles backed his claim of “lack of legal authority” by citing the six non-binding Attorney General Opinions that Lacey used in her argument.

“This lack of legal authority explains why [Lacey] resorts to over-citing AG Opinions.”

Robles went on to critique Lacey’s use of case law to argue incompatible office; only four cases were used in the lawsuit.

“Petitioner cites the case Azusa Land vs. Main San Gabriel Watermaster, but the holding in the case has nothing to do with doctrine of incompatible offices, it was not even a quo warranto action.”

Azusa Land was about a landfill fighting over CEQA regulations to remain open.

Finally, Robles cited several court rulings and AG Opinions that allow holding two offices “if authorized by law.”

The crux of Lacey’s Petition is Government Code Section 1099 that states “elected officials cannot hold two incompatible offices.”

But 1099 also states, “unless the simultaneous holding is expressly authorized by law.”

Both Carson and WRD have recently lawfully passed ordinances allowing the holding of the Carson Mayor seat and a WRD seat, dictating the two offices are not incompatible.

Both were passed in December 2017.

Carson city attorney Bill Wynder said there is legal justification to overrule state law.

Wynder told the Daily Breeze, “The law essentially says, borrowing from scripture, that no man or woman can serve two masters,” Wynder said. “The theory behind that is that elected or appointed officials should not serve in dual capacities where their interests are conflicting or incompatible. But the recognition of the modern society in which we live, and the importance of members of elected bodies serving in … larger public bodies is in fact not compatible and appropriately authorized and is important for advancing the public interest in Carson.”

The DA’s office said, in a written statement, “We are studying the issue and will address it in court if necessary.”

The trial date is set for tomorrow, January 25, 2018, in Dept. 85 of the Los Angeles Superior Court.

 

 

 

 

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